Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Sauerkraut with Gin and Caraway

The fifth installment in this month's blog project was such a dismal failure, I didn't even bother taking a photo.  It sounded promising - sauerkraut with gin and caraway seeds - and the accompanying article in Bon Appetit by noted blogger and fellow Okie Molly Wizenberg was lovely.  Besides, we already like sauerkraut, and my husband is a fan of gin.  What could go wrong?

The plan was to make the kraut as a side/topper for some grilled bratwurst, served alongside fried potatoes.  I opened a can of regular kraut, drained it, and added the gin (Tanqueray No. 10) and caraway seeds as instructed.  After simmering for the called-for 30 minutes, I gave it a taste.  So did my husband.  Neither one of us thought it was palatable. 

We enjoyed our brats and potatoes.  Next time, I'll stick to my usual can of Bavarian sauerkraut, which is sweet and already seasoned with caraway.  :\

Monday, May 9, 2011

Recent cakes I've done!

As an amateur cake maker who only bakes for family and friends, I don't get to do cakes very often.  However, when I do, it's riotously fun and enjoyable.  Here are some of my recent creations!

Smash cake (left) and full size cake for a 1 year old boy- my first time baking without dairy.

Cupcakes for my sister's birthday.

Detroit Red Wings jersey cake for my husband's birthday.  Logo is hand painted.

Tree stump cake for a girl's 5th birthday.

Ballerina cake for my grandmother's 80th birthday.

For my dad and stepmother- my first wedding cake.  Italian cream cake with cream cheese frosting, cream cheese-pineapple filling.

Thomas the Tank Engine cake for my cousin's little boy's 3rd birthday.  Hand painted.

Beef Stew from America's Test Kitchen

The fourth installment in this month's experimental recipe project, Operation: Expand Horizons, was a creation from the venerable America's Test Kitchen for beef stew.  I already have a good recipe for beef stew in the repertoire, but when we watched the episode of this version being made, we got quite curious (and hungry).  So here it goes.

This recipe turned out just okay, especially disappointing considering the expense of the meat and the time it took.  It's not going to replace my regular stew, especially since it's terribly time-consuming.  Granted, much of the time is non-active oven-cooking time, but still.  My regular old stew is better, in our opinions, and takes less than a third of the time.  Plus, it cooks on the stove.

The cooking process for this recipe was rife with substitutions and omissions, some less advised than others.  Use your best judgment in your own kitchen.

I wound up using sardines instead of anchovies despite the advice of foodies on various websites, since the amount was so small as to not matter, and I didn't want to go back to the store for one damn can of anchovies when I already had Spanish sardines in olive oil (the good kind, not mustard packed cheapies). 

I couldn't find chuck eye roast and used arm roast instead, which yielded tender meat overall, but with some dryness. My husband doesn't like pearl onions, so I left those out.  There are sliced onions already in the stew, but the cooking process renders them into the base of the sauce, which was just fine.  I added a palmful of minced fresh chives before serving for a punch of oniony flavor. 

He's also not a huge fan of peas, so I only used half a cup instead of a whole cup.  I also left out the addition of softened gelatin, which is instructed to be added at the end to thicken the liquid.  The stew was more than thick enough already.

Overall, the stew was not really impressive.  My husband said he definitely likes my old version better, which has a thinner tastier broth, pearl barley, and cabbage.

Best Beef Stew

Serves 6 to 8

Use a good-quality, medium-bodied wine, such as Côtes du Rhône or Pinot Noir, for this stew. Try to find beef that is well marbled with white veins of fat. Meat that is too lean will come out slightly dry. Four pounds of blade steaks, trimmed of gristle and silver skin, can be substituted for the chuck-eye roast. While the blade steak will yield slightly thinner pieces after trimming, it should still be cut into 11/2-inch pieces. Look for salt pork that is roughly 75 percent lean. The stew can be cooled, covered tightly, and refrigerated for up to 2 days. Reheat it gently before serving.


2 medium garlic cloves , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
4 anchovy fillets , finely minced (about 2 teaspoons)
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 boneless beef chuck-eye roast (about 4 pounds), trimmed of excess fat, cut into 1
1/2-inch pieces (see note and step by step below)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large onion , halved and cut from pole to pole into 1/8-inch-thick slices (about 2
4 medium carrots , peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 2 cups)
1/4 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2 cups red wine (see note)
2 cups low-sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves
4 sprigs fresh thyme
4 ounces salt pork , rinsed of excess salt (see note)
1 pound Yukon Gold potatoes , scrubbed and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 1/2 cups frozen pearl onions , thawed
2 teaspoons unflavored powdered gelatin (about 1 packet)
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen peas , thawed
Table salt and ground black pepper


1. Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 300 degrees. Combine garlic and anchovies in small bowl; press with back of fork to form paste. Stir in tomato paste and set mixture aside.

2. Pat meat dry with paper towels. Do not season. Heat 1 tablespoon vegetable oil in large heavy-bottomed Dutch oven over high heat until just starting to smoke. Add half of beef and cook until well browned on all sides, about 8 minutes total, reducing heat if oil begins to smoke or fond begins to burn. Transfer beef to large plate. Repeat with remaining beef and 1 tablespoon vegetable oil, leaving second batch of meat in pot after browning.

3. Reduce heat to medium and return first batch of beef to pot. Add onion and carrots to Dutch oven and stir to combine with beef. Cook, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits, until onion is softened, 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic mixture and cook, stirring constantly, until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Add flour and cook, stirring constantly, until no dry flour remains, about 30 seconds.

4. Slowly add wine, scraping bottom of pan to loosen any browned bits. Increase heat to high and allow wine to simmer until thickened and slightly reduced, about 2 minutes. Stir in broth, bay leaves, thyme, and salt pork. Bring to simmer, cover, transfer to oven, and cook for 1 1/2 hours.

5. Remove pot from oven; remove and discard bay leaves and salt pork. Stir in potatoes, cover, return to oven, and cook until potatoes are almost tender, about 45 minutes.

6. Using large spoon, skim any excess fat from surface of stew. Stir in pearl onions; cook over medium heat until potatoes and onions are cooked through and meat offers little resistance when poked with fork (meat should not be falling apart), about 15 minutes.  Meanwhile, sprinkle gelatin over water in small bowl and allow to soften for 5 minutes.

7. Increase heat to high, stir in softened gelatin mixture and peas; simmer until gelatin is fully dissolved and stew is thickened, about 3 minutes. Season with salt and pepper to taste; serve.

Marinara Sauce

The third installment for Operation: Expand Horizons was a recipe for classic Marinara sauce from America's Test Kitchen.  I must admit that I've been gleefully consuming jars of Prego traditional style pasta sauce for years, having tried several recipes for homemade spaghetti sauce but never finding one that really hit the spot.  This one comes darn close.  It will be tweaked on future incarnations.

Like most of the recipes provided by the lovely folks at the Test Kitchen, this one may seem a little intimidating at first, but don't fret.  All of the instructions, while thorough, are intended to help you do a better job.  Read carefully beforehand, purchase good quality ingredients, take your time, make sure you do your mise en place, and cook away.

As I said, this recipe comes *thisclose* to being my go-to for spaghetti night.  My husband said it needed some spice, and I agreed.   A little red pepper flake would do some good on that point, as would a bit more oregano.  The depth of flavor could be improved if I'd had a drier, more robust red wine.  Instead of the Chianti or Merlot called for, I used Pinot Noir that I already had, and although I'm no connoisseur of wine, I'm pretty sure Pinot is milder.  So blame that part on me.

The only change I made in the recipe was in technique, not ingredients: I did not do any blending or pureeing of the sauce.  We like a little chunkiness to our pasta sauce, so I just tore up the peeled tomatoes by hand before cooking.

I served this sauce atop a pile of spaghetti and homemade meatballs from a recipe by Alton Brown that I've made dozens of times.

Marinara Sauce

Makes 4 cups

This recipe makes enough to sauce more than a pound of pasta; leftovers can be
refrigerated or frozen. Because canned tomatoes vary in acidity and saltiness, it's best to add salt, pepper, and sugar to taste just before serving. If you prefer a chunkier sauce, give it just three or four pulses in the food processor in step 4.


2 (28 ounce) cans whole tomatoes , packed in juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion , chopped fine (about 1 cup)
2 medium cloves garlic , minced or pressed through garlic press (about 2 teaspoons)
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1/3 cup dry red wine , such as Chianti or Merlot
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
1 - 2 teaspoons sugar , as needed (see note above)


1. Pour tomatoes and juice into strainer set over large bowl. Open tomatoes with hands and remove and discard fibrous cores; let tomatoes drain excess liquid, about 5 minutes.  Remove 3/4 cup tomatoes from strainer and set aside. Reserve 2 1/2 cups tomato juice and discard remainder.

2. Heat olive oil in large skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until softened and golden around edges, 6 to 8 minutes. Add garlic and oregano and cook, stirring constantly, until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds.

3. Add tomatoes from strainer and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, stirring every minute, until liquid has evaporated and tomatoes begin to stick to bottom of pan and brown fond forms around pan edges, 10 to 12 minutes. Add wine and cook until thick and syrupy, about 1 minute. Add reserved tomato juice and bring to simmer; reduce heat to medium and cook, stirring occasionally and loosening browned bits, until sauce is thick, 8 to 10 minutes.

4. Transfer sauce to food processor (or transfer to saucepan and insert immersion
blender) and add reserved tomatoes; process until slightly chunky, about eight 2-second pulses. Return sauce to skillet and add basil and extra-virgin olive oil and salt, pepper, and sugar to taste.

Mediterranean Grain Salad

The second installation for Operation: Expand Horizons is a simple dish from the folks at Martha Stewart's magazine Everyday Food called Mediterranean Grain Salad.  The original version is slated as a vegetarian main serving one, but I decided to serve it as a side dish in my pregnancy-related craze to pack more veggies onto my plate at every meal.

As are all of the creations of the folks at Everyday Food, this dish wasn't difficult or ground-breaking.  It's a basic riff on classic tabouli salad, sans cucumber- soaked bulgur wheat, tomatoes, fresh parsley, and a simple vinaigrette of minced shallot, red wine vinegar, and olive oil, with the nontraditional inclusion of goat cheese. 

Being a fan of tabouli, I knew I'd like this one.  My husband, as expected (not a tabouli fan), passed, but 4 year old Eva enjoyed it.

I made one small adjustment in my preparation- leaving out the goat cheese.  First, I knew I'd be serving this as a side instead of a main, and didn't want to add more fat to my plate.  Second, goat cheese is freakin' expensive, and part of my adventures in the kitchen is to make good food on a reasonable budget.

All in all, a modicum of success was achieved.  I will make this simple salad again when I have some lovely garden-grown tomatoes this summer.

Note the sunny yellow tomatoes- sweet and lovely in salads.
I ate the salad as a side with grilled pork chop, steamed green beans, and mashed potatoes.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese

The first recipe for week one of Operation: Expand Horizons was stovetop macaroni and cheese from America's Test Kitchen.  I've tried several different mac and cheese recipes and never really found one that we all liked.  This one is a step in the right direction- simple and fast- but just needs different cheese next time. 

The original recipe calls for sharp cheddar as one option, which is my husband's favorite, but the Vermont white cheddar I used was too sharp.  I will probably use a mixture of sharp cheddar and a milder cheese like Colby next time.  My husband thought it was too cheesy, so I might adjust the amount down too, but maybe milder cheese would take care of that issue.

I made a couple of minor adjustments when I prepared this dish.  First, I cut the recipe in half to serve it as a side dish for 2 adults and a 4 year old.  We had some left over.  Thankfully, our child is a mac-o-phile and devoured hers, so I'm trusting she'll eat the leftovers as well.  Secondly, I skipped the bread crumb treatment, since it's not usually our thing.  I might try it next time though.  Cody thought the macaroni could use a little punch of garlic, and garlic bread crumbs would be a good way to do that.

Stovetop Macaroni and Cheese
Recipe by America's Test Kitchen
Serves 4 as a main course or 6 to 8 as a side dish

If you’re in a hurry or prefer to sprinkle the dish with crumbled common crackers
(saltines aren’t bad either), you can skip the bread crumb step.

1 cup fresh breadcrumbs from French or Italian bread
Pinch table salt
1 1/2 tablespoons unsalted butter , melted

2 large eggs
1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk
1/4 teaspoon hot pepper sauce
2 teaspoons table salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 teaspoon dry mustard , dissolved in 1 teaspoon water
1/2 pound elbow macaroni
4 tablespoons unsalted butter
12 ounces sharp cheddar cheese , American cheese, or Monterey Jack cheese, grated (about 3 cups)

1. Heat oven to 350 degrees. Mix bread crumb ingredients together in small baking pan.  Bake until golden brown and crisp, 15 to 20 minutes; set aside.

2. Meanwhile, mix eggs, 1 cup of the evaporated milk, pepper sauce, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, pepper, and mustard mixture in small bowl; set aside.

3. Meanwhile, heat 2 quarts water to boil in large heavy-bottomed saucepan or Dutch oven. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons of the salt and macaroni; cook until almost tender, but still a little firm to the bite. Drain and return to pan over low heat. Add butter; toss to melt.

4. Pour egg mixture over buttered noodles along with three-quarters of the cheese; stir until thoroughly combined and cheese starts to melt. Gradually add remaining milk and cheese, stirring constantly, until mixture is hot and creamy, about 5 minutes. Serve immediately topped with toasted bread crumbs.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Operation: Expand Horizons, Week One

The first week's worth of recipes for Operation: Expand Horizons are:

~ stovetop macaroni and cheese (America's Test Kitchen)
~ Mediterranean grain salad (Martha Stewart Everyday Food)
~ marinara sauce (America's Test Kitchen)
~ iron skillet succotash (Bon Appetit)
~ sauerkraut with gin and caraway (Bon Appetit)
~ best beef stew (America's Test Kitchen)

This week is short one new recipe because of a night out for my darling husband's birthday.  Never you fear, I will do my best to make it up to you.  <3

Operation: Expand Horizons, second edition!

Well, dear readers, May is once again upon us, and I have decided to revisit last year's blog project I called "Operation: Expand Horizons."  If you haven't read about it yet, check out the archive here.  This project is basically an attempt to introduce a wider variety of choices into our gustatory repertoire here at the Errant Home. 

It accomplishes a couple of other things in the process: it helps me to flex my culinary muscles, helps expose our 4 year old daughter to new tastes (whilst I sneak in extra veggies for good measure), and gives me an opportunity to try things out on my husband, who was raised in a less-than-adventurously-eating household.

Last year, I put a lot of pressure on myself for this project.  That was Mistake Number One.  This is supposed to be FUN!  I also put a lot of pressure on my husband to LOVE. EVERY. DISH. NOMATTERWHATDAMNYOU!  Again, wrong-headed.  So this year, I'm easing some of the pressure by having my husband actually help choose the recipes.  Involving him in the process ensures that although we are trying new recipes, we are trying things that he might actually eat.  Whoda thunk?

Another part of fixing last year's mistakes is how I'm assembling the recipe list.  Last year, I chose all the recipes in advance.  This year, I've got a 20-item list to start, but I'm going to be more flexible and go week by week with the actual choosing.  This will also enable me to select recipes based on what I find on sale at the grocery store and what looks good at the farmer's market.

I hope you'll follow along with this year's project and maybe get inspired to do your own.  I love feedback and questions, so sock it to me.